Nazi Hunter Dies At Age 96

Austrian Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal is shown during an interview in this April 17, 2002, file photo at his office in Vienna, Austria. Wiesenthal, who fought against anti-Semitism for decades and founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, died in his sleep, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005, in Vienna, according to officials at the center. He was 96.
AP (file)
Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who helped track down Nazi war criminals following World War II and fought anti-Semitism and prejudice against all people, died Tuesday. He was 96.

Wiesenthal helped track down Adolph Eichman, the SS leader who'd organized Adolph Hitler's plan to exterminate Jews, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth. Israeli agents abducted Eichman in Argentina, and he was tried and hanged in Israel.

Wiesenthal died in his sleep at his home in Vienna, Austria, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a human rights group named after Wiesenthal and his mission.

Wiesenthal, says Hier, will "be remembered as the conscience of the Holocaust. In a way he became the permanent representative of the victims of the Holocaust, determined to bring the perpetrators of the greatest crime to justice."

"It was a job no one else wanted," says Hier, describing the post-war years as a time when "the whole world went home to forget."

Wiesenthal turned his cramped apartment in Vienna into a documentation center for war crimes, and fought a long, and sometimes lonely battle to keep memories -- and the cause of justice – alive, Roth reports. Not just for history, he said, but for posterity.

"The task was overwhelming," says Hier. "The cause had few friends. The Allies were already focused on the Cold War, the survivors were rebuilding their shattered lives and Simon Wiesenthal was all alone, combining the role of both prosecutor and detective at the same time."

Wiesenthal spent over 50 years hunting Nazi war criminals, speaking out against neo-Nazism and racism, and remembering the Jewish experience as a lesson for humanity. Through his work, he said, some 1,100 Nazi war criminals were brought to justice.

"When history looks back, I want people to know the Nazis weren't able to kill millions of people and get away with it," he once said.

Wiesenthal, who had been an architect before World War II, changed his life's mission after the war, dedicating himself to trying to track down Nazi war criminals and to being a voice for the 6 million Jews who died during the onslaught. He himself lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust.

His life's quest began after the Americans liberated the Mauthausen death camp in Austria where Wiesenthal was a prisoner in May 1945. It was his fifth death camp among the dozen Nazi camps in which he was imprisoned, and he weighed just 99 pounds when he was freed. He said he quickly realized "there is no freedom without justice," and decided to dedicate "a few years" to seeking justice.

"It became decades," he added.